The Story of Sharon and Steven (and Rich?)
Sharon and Steven are friends of mine. I’ve known them for years. I was dismayed when Steven told me that Sharon had left him and their two children to be with an old high school boyfriend.
Sharon and Steven had raised two boys during their twenty years of what seemed to be a happy marriage. One son was in college and the other was a junior in high school at the time that Sharon left.
Sharon had gone alone to her twenty-fifth high school reunion. Steven was away at a dentist’s meeting at the time. Sharon reconnected with her old boyfriend, Rich, who was recently divorced. They talked about old times and caught each other up on where their lives had led them since high school. They laughed about old memories.
Sharon hadn’t gone to the reunion planning for this to happen, but her romance with Rich quickly rekindled. They had a few drinks in the hotel bar and ended up making love that night.
Rich was an avid downhill skier and Sharon had skied a lot during her college years. After the reunion Sharon suddenly became an enthusiastic skier. She began arranging for skiing getaways at times when Steven couldn’t get away. Rich met her each time and their revived romance solidified.
After a few months, Sharon announced to her husband that she no longer loved him and wanted a divorce. Steven was blindsided. He didn’t know what had hit him. He begged Sharon to change her mind but to no avail. The boys were furious at Sharon and declared their hatred for her.
Sharon would not change her mind. She hired an attorney. The divorce was disorienting and painful for the entire family.
After the divorce, Sharon and Rich suddenly had each other all to themselves. They moved in together intending to live happily ever after. After a few months though the newness and excitement for each other began to wane. They really didn’t have much in common. Sharon, an architect, was supporting the couple. Rich was a ski instructor but his income was seasonal. Sharon became disillusioned and got her own apartment. She still sees Rich but their romance has not filled Sharon’s lost passion needs.
Steven lives with his youngest son who is now a senior in high school. Steven hasn’t fully recovered from the unexpected collapse of his family. He doesn’t have the emotional energy to look for a new love.
What does all this mean? Why did this happen? Of course only Sharon and Steven really know. Or do they even know? Relationships are usually very complicated and so is life. There are a multitude of factors that can sabotage a relationship.
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Now I’m going to tell you what can kill romantic passion in couples past age forty. And I’m going to talk about how to revive it and keep it alive.
Besides estrogen having a major impact on a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility, and sexuality, this hormone is also known to be associated with her playing more passive, nurturing roles at home. But a woman’s estrogen levels usually begin a slow decline in her late thirties and a more rapid decline in her forties as menopause approaches. Studies have shown that a woman with low estrogen levels is more susceptible to depression and declining libido. And with less hormonal influence on her nesting instincts, a woman is more likely to want to get out in the world and do things that she missed during her fertile years.
A man, on the other hand, at about age forty will typically begin to have about a 1 percent per year decline in his testosterone levels. As his testosterone levels fall, he may have less energy and less interest in getting out and doing things.
These contrasting hormonal influences on a woman and a man can create divergent needs in a couple. Sharon may have wanted to get out and do more, but Steven may have wanted to be more of a couch potato.
When couples start their relationship, they are usually starry eyed and passionate. They can’t get enough of each other.
But life happens. There are usually children to raise. And there are family matters, bills, maintaining a home, and a social life with new friends.
Sharon and Steven’s relationship and romance may have taken a back seat to the realities of life. Maybe they were together but their focus was more and more on everything else and less and less on each other and their romance and intimacy.
- Mistaken Identity
I wonder if Sharon missed the intimacy and passion that she previously had with Steven. Did she assume that this meant she had fallen out of love with him. Did she mistake Rich to be her source of renewed intimacy and passion, when all the while the intimacy and passion could have been rediscovered with Steven.
What to do?
- Should Sharon have taken hormones?
A woman’s estrogen production typically will begin to decline in her late thirties. The estrogen levels usually become low enough to cause estrogen deficiency symptoms when she is in her early forties. These earliest symptoms are often hot flashes, depression, and a lower sex drive.
The obvious way to correct the low estrogen levels would be to take estrogen. This can be dicey though, because women in their early forties will usually still be having periods even though they are producing less estrogen and having menopausal symptoms. Taking estrogen, especially at this age, can cause irregular bleeding. And there are risks to taking estrogen, although the risks are lower in a woman in her forties than at later ages.
Birth control pills are often helpful in these women because not only do birth control pills provide contraception, the estrogen in them usually also produces regular light periods, and eliminates menopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, birth control pills can diminish sex drive in some women.
Many women go through menopause without taking estrogen. But estrogen is an option.
- What could Steven and Sharon have done to keep the love alive?
It’s easy and very common for couples in a long-term relationship to lose that passion that they initially had for each other. The “new lover passion” in a relationship typically lasts for six months to two years. After that, the romance and passion will continue only if the couple consciously takes care of it. It’s like a beautiful but delicate plant. It has to be fed and watered on a regular basis or it will wither.
What does this look like? Both partners need to pay attention to how they talk with each other, their tone of voice, what they say, what they don’t say. They need to be interested in what their partner has to say. Partners need to respond to each other rather than launching right in to what to say next. It helps to have at least one meal together every day. Leave off the TV and put away the smart phones and tablets. Make eye contact.
- Did they acknowledge life’s realities?
Like all couples Steven and Sharon must have had a ton of distractions. Did they let life get in the way of their relationship? Did they forget to take care of the romance even when it seemed that they didn’t have time for each other.
- Was there unresolved anger or guilt or a power differential in their relationship?
Unresolved anger or guilt can be huge wet blanket over intimacy. It can be an elephant in the living room. Some couples are able to get past this by regularly talking, changing behaviors, forgiving, and being compassionate with each other. Others need help from a therapist.
Who’s the boss? There are lots of cultural and religious messages that suggest that the man must be the boss. Not always though, the woman is dominant in some relationships. Too often a hierarchical relationship results in lack of intimacy. The submissive partner is likely to carry unresolved resentment and withhold intimacy. Couples need to communicate with each other about dominance patterns that are no longer working. Give each other gentle, compassionate feedback. Get professional help if they aren’t doing better.
- Have sex dates.
Spontaneous sex becomes increasingly difficult and less likely in established relationships. As discussed above, many women have a lower sex drive beginning in their late thirties as their estrogen levels begin to drop. And the new lover passion has passed while life’s particulars seem to be getting more and more in the way.
Too often one partner (usually the man) withdraws his sexual overtures to protect his ego. His feelings were hurt when his previous approaches were gently brushed off. After that he protects his feelings by avoiding intimate behaviors.
But remember this: Many women have told me that they seldom think about sex but that when it finally does happen, they enjoy it.
The important thing to remember is that committed couples who have regular sexual intimacy tend to be sweeter, more tender, and more romantic with each other. And they are more likely to stay together.
The solution might be sex dates. Couples can plan sex dates ideally at least once a week. Now feelings are less likely to get hurt because they both know that sexual intimacy is going to happen. And it’s not a requirement that either is horny when the time comes for the date.
When couples agree to make love, horny or not, arousal and intimacy usually magically resurface.
I wonder if steps one through five could have prevented Sharon and Steven’s sad breakup.